Of all the networks we build in our lives, one of the earliest and deepest networks we create is that of our alma mater. People take their connection to their school seriously (just watch the boosters at any basketball game). The fundraising department at your school depends on that when they have students call and ask you for money. Take me – I’m a busy guy and I don’t have a lot of spare time just laying around. But if you want to have 5 minutes of my time, call me and tell me when you graduated from Northwestern University. I’ll definitely give you a few minutes.
In the past if you wanted to network with your fellow alums you had to wait for your next reunion to roll around. Or if you were lucky, the alumni association would have events in your area where you could meet others from your school. That would only work, though, if you stayed around your school after graduation or were in a major metropolitan area.
LinkedIn has done a lot lately to beef up its alumni section; and if you haven’t had a chance to check it out, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. Because LinkedIn has almost 300 million members who have self-identified, your classmates are already there and they’ve already checked the “Education” box. Whether you are a recent graduate or the class of (mumble, mumble, mumble), it’s a great tool to use when you are looking to expand your network.
The heart of the alumni section is an incredibly powerful search engine that allows you to find your fellow alumni:
You can filter the results by where alumni live, what industry or companies they work in, and even what they studied while in school. The date filter allows you to find alums that went to school during a specific time period – a great way to find your fellow classmates. And you can sort through them by degree of connection on LinkedIn. For example, there are almost 5,000 members on LinkedIn who were Wildcats during the same years I was in school and are 2nd-level connections. Not only could I leverage my school connection, but we also know someone in common. That makes it a lot easier to start a conversation with them!
There are many ways you could leverage the alumni section. For example, those 5,000 2nd-level connections that I went to school with have spread around the country (and the world) into almost every conceivable industry and job. If I was looking to move, to work for a new organization, or even to change career paths, I could check to see my connections in those areas so I could ask questions and get some feedback.
And if was looking for help, I would definitely reach out to my school connections. If I was interested in making inroads into a company because I wanted to get a job there or because I was in sales and they were a great prospect, I would absolutely start with fellow alumni. When you are prospecting for new opportunities, the hardest thing to do is get someone to pick up the phone and talk to you. You wouldn’t expect someone to buy from you just because you went to the same school together, but it can often be the proverbial “foot in the door” so you can start the conversation.
Beyond the search feature, your school’s homepage also includes a newsfeed where alumni can communicate with each other, a listing of notable alumni (I’m not quite sure how they decide who is “notable” – but Rahm Emanuel came up on NU’s and I guess he is pretty notable), and links to your school’s LinkedIn Groups. How you use all of this information is up to you, but it’s a great resource as you build your career!
I’ll see you online!
This article originally appeared here at Firmology.com. I’ve included some specific examples from my own alma mater (Northwestern University) to flesh out how your alumni network can help you on LinkedIn.